Oct 17, 2022, 3:42:52 AM10/17/22
Of a Pure Mind and Simple Intention (3)
As iron cast into fire loses its rust and becomes glowing white, so
he who turns completely to God is stripped of his sluggishness and
changed into a new man. When a man begins to grow lax, he fears a
little toil and welcomes external comfort, but when he begins
perfectly to conquer himself and to walk bravely in the ways of God,
then he thinks these things less difficult which he thought so hard
--Thomas à Kempis--Imitation of Christ Book 2, Chapter 4
• October 17th - Saint John the Dwarf, Egyptian Desert Father
(also called John Colobus)
(c. 339 – c. 405)
Countless stories are told about hundreds of hermits and hermitages
that hallowed the deserts of Egypt in the earliest Christian
centuries. Some of these stories are likely folklore. Usually they
ring true. Always, they edify.
One of the best-known of the fifth-century desert saints was a man
called "John Kolobos;" that is, John the Little, of John the Dwarf.
He was a young man when he entered the monastic wilderness of Skete in
northern Egypt. There he would pass his whole life in prayer and
Little John had a beautiful simplicity of character. On his arrival,
he was assigned to an old, experienced hermit as tutor. The tutor
straightway gave John a walking stick. "Plant this in the ground," he
ordered, "and water it every day." The command was a test as well as
a task. John obeyed at once, without question or delay. Even though
the river from which he fetched the water was at a distance, he
watered the stick dutifully every day. In the third year the walking
stick put forth buds and flowers and fruit. John had passed the test.
His tutor collected the fruit and distributed it among his companions.
"Take," he told them, "and eat the fruit of obedience."
(Although this sounds like folklore, there is a record, dating from
402 AD, that refers to a certain tree in the monastery yard as John's
walking stick come to life.)
It is not surprising that such a simple soul would be single-minded in
his service of God. Divine things were his only interest. He cared
nothing for the "news" of the day. (Here is something for us gossips
to ponder; and, even more, the media people!) In fact, his focus was
so intense that he was often absent-minded about worldly things.
Once, for instance, a man on a camel came to his cell to pick up
John's basket making tools and transfer them elsewhere, according to
an agreement. But, between the door and his bench, John forgot his
messenger and his message. This happened three times. Finally he
hammered the caller's purpose into his mind by repeating to himself:
"The camel; my tools." So the caller on the camel finally did get the
equipment. On the other hand, John once spent a whole night and day
without break discussing spiritual matters with another monk.
Around that time, a hitherto reputable young Egyptian woman named
Paesia fell into unworthy ways. St. John's monks begged him to try to
bring her back to God. He called at Paesia's home and gently
expressed his concern for her. She asked why he was weeping. "How
can I not weep," he replied, "while I see Satan in possession of your
Paesia was deeply touched. "Will you show me the route to
repentance?" she asked. John bade her to come back to the desert
with him. En route, they had to stop over night. As he slept in the
dark wasteland he dreamt that he saw Paesia going up to heaven, and he
heard a voice that said, "God has already considered her repentance
perfect." When he awoke and went to the place where she had been
sleeping, he found that she had indeed died.
Towards the end of St. John's life, Berbers from the west raided the
monastic fastness of Skete. John and his followers fled east across
the Nile to the desert made famous by St. Anthony, the pioneer
Egyptian monk. It was there that John, too, drew his last breath.
When they saw that his death was imminent, St. John's disciples asked
him to give them one final spiritual lesson. Still too humble to want
to be thought an expert, he simply said, "I have never followed my own
will; nor did I ever teach another what I had not practiced myself."
There were spiritual giants in the ancient deserts of Egypt. One of
the tallest of these giants was St. John the dwarf.
READ the sacred Scriptures and books of piety with the same spirit in
which they were written; that is, read them in quest of truth, for
instruction, for edification, and to bring thee to a truly Christian
way of life. Read the holy Scriptures with faith, humility, respect,
and docility, praying the Holy Ghost Who dictated it, to enable thee
to understand it, to relish it, and to practice it.
"Let us seek to discover the things of heaven through the sweat of our
efforts, rather than by mere talk, for at the hour of death it is
deeds, not words, that must be displayed."
--St. John Climacus.
Who is worthy to face the Lord?
Lord, who will live in your tent? Who will dwell on your holy mountain?
Whoever comes there without stain, acts rightly, speaks truth in his heart.
Whoever does not speak deceitfully,--or do harm to his neighbour,--or
Whoever despises the evil-doer, but he reveres those who fear the Lord.
Whoever swears and keeps his word, come what may--lends his money without
usury--takes no bribe to condemn the innocent.
Whoever lives like this will stand firm for ever.
Psalm (15) DRB